Jeff Ackerman: Historical buildings could use our help |

Jeff Ackerman: Historical buildings could use our help

Boston has doorknobs older than any “historical” landmark you’re likely to find in these parts. And that’s what makes that particular Eastern seaport city so special. Yet as I strolled Boston’s Freedom Trail a couple of weeks ago with a stop at Cheers (Norm wasn’t there) for a cold beer, I couldn’t help but think of a couple of historical buildings in Nevada City that need a helping hand today.

Over the past month or so, I’ve had the chance to meet some folks intimately involved with the Nevada Theatre (you can tell it’s old when they spell it with an “re” and not an “er” at the end) and the Miners Foundry, located just around the corner from the theater. During those meetings, I learned that both of the buildings could use – among a few other things – new heating and air conditioning systems.

That’s about as practical as it gets. We’re not talking fancy, here. We’re talking about keeping warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We’re talking about a crack in the floor and a sprinkler system, for crying out loud.

The Nevada Theatre got its beginnings from a disastrous fire that destroyed the Bailey House Hotel in 1863. Residents wanted to showcase their theatrical talents so they built a theater in the hotel’s place.

In the ensuing years, according to historians, the Nevada Theatre played host to players from around the world, including Mark Twain, Jack London and our very own Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Gary Snyder.

The theater is not owned or operated by the Foothill Theatre Company, Community Players or the Community Asian Theater. Those excellent groups are occasional tenants. The Nevada Theatre Commission, a nonprofit organization of mostly volunteers, acts as stewards for the facility, which is, according to historical literature, “California’s oldest theater building.”

In its “Preservation Fund Needs Statement,” the theater commission says it’s “essential to have a fully functioning and reliable HVAC system … in order to meet the needs and expectations …” of its users and guests. I’d say so. It’s very difficult to sit through a three-hour performance when it’s 95 degrees inside. And I can’t imagine what it’s like on stage, with face paint and a wig.

Parts of the current heating and air conditioning system were installed in the 1920s and ’30s, according to the needs statement.

And, given the history of fires in Nevada City, a good fire sprinkler system is an urgent and absolute need.

So here’s the list for the Nevada Theatre:

HVAC installation: $90,000

Fire sprinkler system: $130,000

Architectural fees: $10,000

Contingencies (you always need a little extra when it comes to construction projects): $20,000.

The Miners Foundry has similar needs, so perhaps we can land a “Two-For-One” special on HVAC units.

The Foundry, according to history, got its beginnings in 1855 as a machine shop that served the gold mines. It is said to be the birthplace of the Pelton Wheel in 1879, an invention that revolutionized hydroelectric power.

Nevada City visionaries Charles Woods and David Osborn, who changed the name to the American Victorian Museum and converted it to a performing arts venue and home to KVMR radio, purchased the foundry in 1974.

In 1989 it was purchased by Nevada City Winery and donated a year later to the Nevada County Cultural Preservation Trust.

Today the Foundry hosts hundreds of events, from wedding receptions to fundraisers. I attended a fundraiser for the Domestic Violence Coalition there just last week.

I had lunch recently with the Foundry’s Executive Director Gretchen Bond and board member Pat Gregor. In a nutshell, they’ll need to replace two boilers, repipe the entire mechanical room, change the expansion tank and change the pumps to correct a directional flow.

Three years ago, the estimate for that work was $30,000, so chances are it’s a lot more than that today.

With all of the contractors and builders in this area, there must be some way to get those things squared away.

Unfortunately, many of those contractors and builders are stretched pretty thin. I know quite a few of them who donate time, money and materials in all parts of Nevada County for all kinds of good projects.

So it may take a little, extra-special nudge to get the work done.

And it really is important work. Those two structures represent much of what makes Nevada City so special.

If you can help or know someone who can, please contact the Nevada Theatre at 265-6161 or the Foundry at 265-5040.

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299,, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.

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